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Vikings Shuffled O-Line for 'Best Option' without Darrisaw

EAGAN, Minn. — Entering Week 13, the Vikings had used three different starting combinations along the offensive line.

Each of those combinations had started multiple games together, as Minnesota simply plugged in one player for another along the way.

But the Vikings shuffled the deck in a big way in Sunday's loss to the Lions, choosing to switch three players around in the wake of rookie left tackle Christian Darrisaw's ankle injury.

Minnesota's starting offensive line, from left to right, featured Olisaemeka Udoh, Ezra Cleveland, Garrett Bradbury, Mason Cole and Brian O'Neill.

"We'll have to look at the tape, but we felt like that would be the best option moving forward," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Sunday afternoon.

It is unclear if Darrisaw will be able to return to action before the Vikings (5-7) host the Steelers (6-5-1) on Thursday Night Football.

Cole said that group, Minnesota's fourth different starting unit, got a full week of practice before their Week 13 game at Detroit.

"Earlier in the week when it looked like Christian wasn't going to be able to go … they informed us that this was going to be the lineup so we could get some reps at it," Cole said. "And we just kind of took it and rolled with it.

"You always expect something like this to happen late in the year," Cole added. "Guys are banged up, and we're playing physical football, so we've just got to be ready for anything."

O'Neill (right tackle) and Cleveland (left guard) are the mainstays up front, as both players have been on the field for all 842 snaps at their respective positions this season.

The biggest change was Udoh, who was moved from right guard to left tackle, a position he had never played before in an NFL game. Rashod Hill, who started the first five games of the season at left tackle before Darrisaw was healthy, played just three snaps on special teams Sunday.

Udoh was called for a pair of false starts in his debut at left tackle. He had played tackle in college at Elon and then practiced mostly at right tackle as a rookie in 2020 before Minnesota moved him to right guard at the onset of 2021 training camp.

"Yeah, I mean, hat's off to Oli," Cole said. "Moving from right guard to left tackle is not easy.

"He held his own out there and did a good job," Cole added. "There's always things we can do better, but we just keep battling and taking the punches as we roll."

Cole was also on the move, as he shifted to right guard after starting the previous four games at center. He took over the spot in the middle after Bradbury was put on the Reserve/COVID-19 list in early November.

Cole had started two career games at guard, but it came on the left side with the Cardinals, and not at right guard. He had played 47 total snaps at right guard before Sunday.

Cole assessed his play in Week 13:

"There's always a few plays you wish you could have back," Cole said. "But overall, I think it went well.

"I think I felt more comfortable as the game went on," Cole added. "It's a little different, but I'm confident in any three of those interior spots."

View game action photos between the Vikings and Lions during the Week 13 matchup at Ford Field.

Bradbury, meanwhile, was back in his old spot at center, where he started the first seven games of the 2021 season. The 2019 first-round pick has now made 40 career starts at center in Purple.

Minnesota racked up 426 yards of total offense, but endured an up-and-down game. The Vikings rebounded from a shaky first half to score points on four of their final five possessions. Kirk Cousins was sacked three times, including a strip-sack that the Lions recovered.

"I think they did a great job working and preparing to be ready to go," Cousins said. "It's a lot to ask somebody to move across the line to different spot and it's a big ask, and I thought they really stepped up and answered the challenge."

Cole praised Vikings offensive line coach Phil Rauscher and Vikings Offensive Coordinator Klint Kubiak for preparing the group for any situation.

"Yeah, you know, it can be tough, but I think Phil and Klint do a really good job making us prepare for these situations," Cole said. "This late in the year, we know these situations are going to come up at some point in the year.

"Guys are going to be banged up," Cole added. "They do a good job. We're all ready to play any of the positions, honestly. We just kind of take it and roll with it."

The Vikings now face a short week as they host the Steelers on Thursday Night Football.

If Darrisaw cannot play on a short week due to his ankle injury, the quintet that started against Detroit could be called upon again in Week 14.

Pittsburgh currently leads the NFL in total sacks (37), while linebacker T.J. Watt's 16.0 sacks leads all defensive players.